Sunday, June 28, 2015

Inspirational Soviet postcard from the 1960s (Yes, I wrote that)

Straight from the Cold War, here's a vintage postcard from the Soviet Union with a great message that transcends ideologies and generations.

The card shows a young boy who is doing some woodworking. He is surrounded by images of boats, an airplane, a rocket ship, birdhouse and a futuristic helicopter.

The caption, translated, essentially states:

Skillful hands do not know boredom

Which is a fantastic message. From anyone, anywhere, at any time. If that's considered propaganda, then it's the kind of propaganda we need more of.

Here's the back of the postcard, which I have not attempted to translate, because Russian cursive is not my specialty.

Here's a closer look at the postcard publisher's logo and that groovy helicopter.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Tackling genealogy on your home PC in the late 1980s

This is the cover of a 1989 brochure from The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints. It pitches the benefits and ease of use of their Personal Ancestral File software package for home computers.

"Personal Ancestral File is a system designed to simplify your genealogical record keeping."

Long before and full-time access to the Internet, PAF was designed to help ease individuals into the world of documenting their family histories with keyboards, monochrome monitors, floppy disks and dot-matrix printers.

These were some of the benefits touted by the brochure:
  • "Personal Ancestral File allows you to enter historical information or source reference notes for each individual — valuable background information every genealogist wants to keep."
  • "The Family Records program can sort and print lists — for example, names of individuals ordered alphabetically, by Record Identification Number, or by user-assigned ID number."
  • "Because you store your information on diskettes other than the program diskette, you can record information about an unlimited number of people. You are limited only by the number of diskettes you want to buy."
  • "Convert all or part of your Family Records data to a transmission data format that you can send to another Personal Ancestral File user."

To be fair, the brochure makes clear what the software can and cannot do, and doesn't sell the product (or the PC) as an easy solution for every fledgling or unorganized genealogist:
  • "The Research Data Filer does not teach you research principles or strategies. But it does help organize research data so that you can analyze it more effectively."
  • "Personal Ancestral File operates only on your personal computer. It does not give you access to any of the computer files in the Family History Department."
  • "This genealogical software was developed as an aid for those who own or have access to a personal computer. The Family History Department does not encourage you to purchase a personal computer simply to use this software."

The software was available for MS-DOS, Apple II and Macintosh computers. No price was listed in the brochure, but a 1989 Church News article indicates that the package cost $35 (reasonable for the time) and that there were already about 100,000 users, only about half of whom were Mormons.

Personal Ancestral File stood the test of time, through many upgrades and new versions, especially given how quickly software becomes defunct in the computing era. It was launched in 1983 and was not discontinued until 2013.

Related posts

Friday, June 19, 2015

Robin Jacques illustrations for "Some Adventures of a Brownie"

This is Robin Jacques' lead illustration for "Some Adventures of a Brownie," which appears in Volume 14 of Nelson Doubleday's mid-century "Best in Children's Books" series.1

In all, Jacques — well-known for his distinctive stippling-technique artwork and his long period of collaboration with Ruth Manning-Sanders — contributed 19 illustrations to "Some Adventures of a Brownie." Not all of them are in full color like the one above, which is probably the most beautiful of the bunch.

The tale was written by Dinah Maria Mulock (1826-1887), who was known for her novels and poetry. Mulock had an extensive bibliography, but her career had its ups and downs. According to Wikipedia, several of her books were "of inferior merit," "inferior in every respect," and "of no great account." Ouch.

Still, Mulock shows a nice touch in "Some Adventures of a Brownie." Further, her style with this kind of children's written, with its read-aloud quality, reminds me of Manning-Sanders' work, almost to the extent that I wonder if Manning-Sanders (1886-1988) was influenced by Mulock's writing during her youth. The timing would have been right, as Mulock would have still been widely read and in print.

Here's the opening passage of "Some Adventures of a Brownie":
"There was once a little Brownie who lived — where do you think he lived? — in a coal cellar.

"Now a coal cellar may seem a most curious place to live in, but then a Brownie is a curious creature — a fairy, an yet not one of that sort of fairies who fly about on gossamer wings, and dance in the moonlight, and so on. He never dances, and as to wings, what use would they be to him in a coal cellar? He is a sober, stay-at-home, household elf — nothing much to look at, even if you did see him, which you are not likely to do — only a little old man, about a foot high, all dressed in brown, with a brown face and hands, and brown peaked cap. He is just the color of a brown mouse, and like a mouse, he hides in corners — especially kitchen corners. He usually comes out after dark when nobody is about, so sometimes people call him Mr. Nobody.

"I may as well tell you the adventures of a particular Brownie, who belonged to a family in Devonshire, a family he had followed from house to house most faithfully for years and years."

Read the full adventures of Mr. Nobody, if you wish, at (Warning: The illustrations of the Brownie in that earlier edition are much creepier.)

Long footnote
1. "Best in Children's Books" was a 42-volume series published by Nelson Doubleday Inc. between 1957 and 1961, according to an in-depth post on Rare Books Digest. While spanning a wide range of historically important children's literature, the series is most collectible now because of the illustrators it employed to do original artwork for the various volumes. The artists included Richard Scarry, Andy Warhol, Leonard Kessler and Maurice Sendak. It appears that Robin Jacques provided illustrations for at least two other books in the series, too. According to Rare Books Digest:
"Several of the books are now considered collector’s items and have become hard to find, especially if quality is desirable. They are indeed rare books. Most of the volumes available are either missing their attractive dust jacket or have some other significant limitation such as stains, tears or writing, so the drive to complete a full set has now become a popular undertaking for a great deal of collectors, who have exhausted the easy picks from the market."
I come across the books regularly at book sales, but never in better than fair condition and I have yet to see one with its original dust jacket. They probably wouldn't have piqued my interest at all, if I hadn't leafed through one and happened upon the Jacques illustrations. The other selections in this Volume 14 include:
  • "Robert E. Lee," by Smith Burnham
  • "Wait for William," by Marjorie Flack
  • "The Old Woman and Her Pig"
  • "The True Book of Dinosaurs," by Mary Lou Clark
  • "Tell Me Why," by Ellen Wales Walpole
  • "Let's Visit Scotland"

Monday, June 15, 2015

From the readers: Rover Boys, stamps, school memories and more

It's time for another "mailbag" from the home office in York, Pennsylvania. As always, these are actual comments from actual readers of Papergreat. (If I was making them up, that would be just about the saddest thing ever, don't you think?)

Selections from the 1967 Top Value Stamps catalog: There were two new comments on this post:
  • Sharon writes: "Has anyone found where to redeem their stamp books? Really interested. Would love to know. I ended up on this site because I was researching an ancient looking Cynthia Mills mending thread pack I found in my Aunt Margie's sewing stuff. It dates back to the '30s or 40s. I am amazed at how old this stuff has gotten in my lifetime. About 30 years ago, I would have thrown things like this away. Now I treasure them."
  • Anonymous writes: "I just acquired 15 books of Top Value stamps and I cant find where to redeem them. Green stamps wont accept them. Any ideas?"
There are probably people out there with more information and, if so, please add a note in the Comments below or email me at Here's what I know. The most popular kind of trading stamps, S&H Green Stamps, can still be redeemed, for greenpoints. For a time, S&H also gave out greenpoints for Top Value stamps, but ceased that practice in 2010.

I am not aware of any current company that redeems Top Value stamps. If you want a make a few bucks (literally) off them, however, one suggestion would be to sell them on eBay, as some people collect them. (People collecting old paper — imagine that!)

The Rover Boys at Big Horn Ranch: Angela Kenney writes: "I have a hardback copy of The Rover Boys at Big Horn Ranch. Do you know how I can find out the value of this book?"

We would need to know the book's condition and whether the dust jacket is still intact and what condition it's in. This is not, however, considered a rare volume. If there's no dust jacket, I'm guessing the most the book is worth is about $5. If it has an original dust jacket that's in nice condition, my guess is that it could increase the value to $20 to $30, but you might want to take it to a dealer who specializes in these kind of books.

1953 envelope from the Around-The-World Shoppers Club: Anonymous writes: "My mother belonged to that club. She got some AMAZING gifts, some of which I still have! One was a little perfume bottle, blue glass with silver overlay and a small funnel — perfume was inside. I often see it on eBay or in antique stores. I also remember a small blue Delft lamp from Holland. I wondered what had happened to the club. Thanks for the info!"

Peeking inside a circa-1940 Shippensburg High gradebook: An anonymous commenter wrote: "Just found this totally randomly while looking for a picture of the now-demolished school, which is where I went to JHS (a new high school had been built by then). Some 17 years after this gradebook was in use, Dr. Jack Hargleroad delivered me at Chambersburg Hospital. His classmate Dorothy Hubley was my elementary school principal, and several other people listed above were friends of my parents, who moved to town in the 50's and were professors at what is now Shippensburg University. Thanks for posting!"

A few hours later, the same commenter returned with additional information: "My sister just sent me a ref showing that 'Paggy' Wise's (nee Hargleroad) real first name was 'Pague.' I knew her as a JHS PE teacher and had always assumed it was 'Peg.' A quick check of a US first-names site lists just one living person with that first name."

I'm so happy when people find Papergreat posts through search and stumble upon a piece of their past. This commenter has added to the discussion/history with the information about Paggy/Pague. I would have never guessed that Pague was a first name. Sadly, I can also add that Pague Hargleroad Wise died in 2003 at age 79. Here's the obituary.

Snazzy 1960s postcard of a historic Chicago hotel: Anonymous writes: "Hi, I have a copy of this postcard. You can see it here The card is used and the message is interesting. Yoshi is was in Chicago and is traveling to LA, San Francisco and then Hawaii and Japan. He mailed it to a woman in Cincinnati and used a West Virginia stamp. I am fascinated by these little time travelers. Thanks for your interesting blog."

Saturday's postcard #1: Cute cotton girl in the South: Anonymous writes: "Ironic that it is a white girl 'picking' cotton. Don't imagine that happened much here in South Carolina."

Point taken.

Postcard: The Haunted Room in the Mint House, Pevensey: Messianic Light writes: "I have a possibly brass ashtray featuring Ye Olde Mint House and Merry Andrew with no idea how old it is or how much it may be worth. I also have a Pevensey Castle pamphlet reprinted 1951."

I hope Yuriy Sosnitskiy becomes a famous artist: Yuriy and Nataly reply: "Thank you, Chris, for such wonderful words!'

My pleasure! I hope that I can become one of your patrons some day!

Miniature photographs from 1930s New York City: Anonymous writes: "Very cool! I plan to use these to launch a reading inquiry unit about the 1930s with my class. Thanks!"

I'm thrilled to see Papergreat being used for educational purposes!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Echte Wagner advertising card featuring Die Heinzelmännchen

This old advertising card, featuring a group of Heinzelmännchen (brownies or house gnomes) fleeing a house, is just one in a long series of collectible cards published by German company Echte Wagner in the first half of the 20th century. Echte Wagner made margarine, and it made a lot of trade cards. The one shown here is the sixth card in the eighth series of the third album. So, yes, there were many. If you do a Google Image search for Echte Wagner cards, you'll see what I mean. Pictured at right is the cover of the second Echte Wagner album.

There were hundreds of Echte Wagner trading cards, and they were focused on numerous topics, including folklore, transportation, outer space and more.

According to one poster in a forum on
"The Wagner company issued several albums of cards between the wars. Some cards are Liebig-sized, others are smaller. Generally they were in sets of 6 like Liebig although they are usually referred to by the album number. ... The so-called Kaufmannsbilder, which you could translate as merchants cards, i.e. trade cards, were very common in Germany pre-ww1. Larger companies produced their own. Smaller companies could have their names printed on 'generic' cards. Individual retailers could buy blank cards and apply their rubber stamp to them. ...

Wagner issued:
1928 Album 1 180 cards
1929 Album 2 216 cards
1931 Album 3 216 cards
1932 Album 4 "Aus Forst und Flur" 240 cards
1932 Album 5 "Wilde Tiere in ihrer Heimat" 240 cards
1932 Wagner's Märchenbuch 24 cards

They also issued some albums post-war in 1951
Schelme und Narren 96 cards
Deutsches Denken und Schaffen 96 cards
Wer lacht mit, lustiges Sprichwörterbuch 144 cards
Abenteurer und Entdecker 1 96 cards
Abenteurer und Entdecker 2 96 card"
So, this Die Heinzelmännchen card was just one of 216 published in 1931.

There's a short story on the back of the card, in German. The title is Die Heinzelmännchen kommen nicht wieder, which translates to "The brownies will not come back."

According to Wikipedia:
"The Heinzelmännchen are a race of creatures appearing in a tale connected with the city of Cologne in Germany. The little house gnomes are said to have done all the work of the citizens of Cologne during the night, so that the inhabitants of Cologne could be very lazy during the day. According to the legend, this went on until a tailor's wife got so curious to see the gnomes that she scattered peas onto the floor of the workshop to make the gnomes slip and fall. The gnomes, being infuriated, disappeared and never returned. From that time on, the citizens of Cologne had to do all their work by themselves."
So that's clearly what has happened in the illustration on this card, as the woman has spread peas all over the floor, bringing an end to the good times for Cologne.

Friday, June 12, 2015

More stuff from my grandmother's 1978 trip to Spain

Back on May 25, I had a quickie post featuring one of my grandmother's photos from her 1978 trip to Spain. Here are a couple more items of ephemera related to that trip thirty-seven years ago.

First up is some letterhead from "Hotel De Los Reyes Catolicos" in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. This is actually Hostal dos Reis Católicos, a 15th century edifice that was once a hospital and is now a luxury hotel that features a restaurant in what was once the hospital morgue.

In her hard-to-decipher handwriting, my grandmother refers to herself in the third person and states:
"Helen stayed here — Spain — refurbished hospital — (run by monks [?]) — during Queen Isabella & King Ferdinand time — (end of [?] pilgrimage)"
Here is the hotel's current website, if you're planning a trip. The hotel notes that its restaurant offers "dishes created using fish and seafood from the rias of Galicia, beef and vegetables paired with traditional cheeses such as O Cebreiro, and exquisite desserts like filloas (crêpes) filled with apple compote and crème brûlée or traditional tarta de Santiago (almond cake)"

Meanwhile, here's another snapshot from my grandmother's trip. A guy on the donkey. Nicely framed shot, too. I'm guessing it was taken from the back window of the tour bus.

Friday mélange: Spaceship York, Love & Mercy, and a black butterfly

An assortment of news, updates and quick thoughts on this Friday morning...

Encourage good movies: We pretty much get the movies that we deserve, which is why most multiplexes are filled with Jurassic World, Spy, San Andreas1, Tomorrowland, Entourage and their brethren at the moment.

But there are high-quality movies out there, even in the summer, and they need our support if we want more of them in the future. Love & Mercy, the story of Beach Boy Brian Wilson, is, by most reviews, one of those movies. (And it has a gorgeous poster, to boot.) A.O. Scott of The New York Times provides just one of the ebullient reviews, explaining why this isn't your standard music biopic.

Here's the movie's trailer...

And, yes, they had me at "God Only Knows," which Sir Paul McCartney has called his favorite song. Here, by the way, are two cover versions you might like...

But I digress. If you're at all interested in the subject matter, go see Bill Pohlad's Love & Mercy. So we can get more smart movies like it.

* * *

In early May, I wrote about "Spaceship York," an community art project sending hopes, dreams and ephemera into outer space. Last week, the project culminated with its launch, which was termed "awesome" and "amazing" by spectators. Here's the video, from the York Daily Record/Sunday News...

* * *

Last week I received a wonderful postcard and Writing Challenge through Postcrossing. Esther from the Netherlands mailed me a postcard featuring a South American black/grey butterfly called Asterope optima. Her note stated:
"What if this beautiful butterfly would be a dark wizard or bad witch? I saw the postcard and thought of a new fairytale about a mysterious butterfly luring people deeper and deeper into the woods. Maybe you can write about it on your blog."
Challenge accepted! I'm working on a fairy tale2 about the black butterfly and will post it here when it's finished. Here's hoping I can channel my inner Ruth Manning-Sanders.

1. Full disclosure: Sarah and I saw and enjoyed this throwback to Irwin Allen disaster movies. I mean, who's going to say no to The Rock? But the main point about also supporting quality movies still stands.
2. Sarah is serving as a creative consultant.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

RIP, Sir Christopher Lee, champion of literature

He was Dracula and Dooku. He was Saruman and Scaramanga.

But actor Christopher Lee, whose death Sunday at age 93 was announced today, was much more than just fangs, blood and bad guys.

“Please don’t describe me in your article as a ‘horror legend,’" he asked a reporter for The Telegraph in 2011.

So, setting aside the cinematic creatures of the night, here are some bookish things you might not have known about Christopher Lee:

1. He was fully or partially fluent in English, Italian, French, Spanish, German, Swedish, Russian, Greek, and Mandarin Chinese.1

2. Lee once met educator and ghost-story author M.R. James (1862-1936). The Book of Ghost Stories, an early 1980s volume dedicated to James' works, includes a short tribute to James, penned by Lee. An excerpt:
"Although Mr. James is often mentioned in the same breath as those other famous writers of the supernatural, Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood, he was, in my opinion, the greatest of them all. He was certainly the most erudite, and his literary style was quite the purest. ... I must just add that for me Dr. James's work is the equivalent in cinematic terms with the films of the French director, Claude Chabrol, who is a also a master of atmospheric invocation, creating situations apparently so ordinary yet by the slightest twist making them frighten you to death!"2

3. There are conflicting accounts about the true size of Lee's home library. (One disputed statistic that gained steamed online in recent years was that he had 12,000 occult books. That seems unlikely.) But, numbers aside, there is little doubt he was an avid reader and book collector.

4. Lee once met J.R.R. Tolkien and was a serious fan and scholar of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It has been reported that he "was such a mammoth Tolkien fan that he re-read the fantasy books every year without fail." In a 2010 interview with Lawrence French of Cinefantastique, Lee said:
"I still think THE LORD OF THE RINGS is the greatest literary achievement in my lifetime. Like so many other people, I couldn’t wait for the second, and then the third book. Nothing like it had ever been written. Other authors like T. H. White and Lewis Carroll invented imaginary worlds, but Tolkien not only invented an imaginary world, he invented imaginary races, which you can easily believe in. And he created very long appendices with all the family trees and the names of the previous Kings and so-forth. It’s quite incredible, really, the scholarship and imagination that went into the writing of it. And what is even more remarkable is that Tolkien, who was a professor of philology, invented new languages."

5. Another author Lee admired was Dennis Wheatley.3 Lee helped bring Wheatley's The Devil Rides Out to the screen in 1968, and it was one of the biggest critical successes in the storied time that Lee and Hammer Films worked together. (Lee, by the way, was the hero for once in that movie adaptation.)

6. Lee shared the same birthday (May 27) and a friendship with Vincent Price, another horror icon who had so many interests beyond vampires and ghouls. Price published books about cooking and antiques, and Lee had a music career that spanned opera and heavy metal, with some history of Charlemagne woven in.

* * *

Finally, here's a photo of Lee in one of his last major roles, as kindly and generous bookshop owner Monsieur Labisse in Martin Scorsese's 2011 film Hugo.

1. Meanwhile, I can count to 20 in Spanish and to three in Japanese.
2. In 2000, BBC presented a four-episode mini-series, Ghost Stories for Christmas, in which Lee portrays James and reads ghost stories to a group of rapt students.
3. Some fun connections: Wheatley had a series of World War II thrillers, featuring a character named Gregory Sallust, that served as an inspiration for Ian Fleming's James Bond series. Meanwhile, Lee was related, in a way, to Fleming. Lee's mother's second husband was Harcourt George St-Croix Rose, who was Fleming's uncle. That made Lee and Fleming step-cousins.